Two All-Party Parliamentary groups (APPGs) joined together at a recent event to highlight the issue of sight problems for people with learning disability as a key public health issue.

The APPGs on Eye Health & Visual Impairment and Learning Disability held a joint meeting on January 17 to discuss recent research by sight loss charities SeeAbility and Royal National Institute of Blind People that found that people with learning disabilities are 10 times more likely to have serious sight problems than the rest of the population.

The meeting aimed to raise awareness among MPs of the research's other key findings, including:

  • People with severe or profound learning disabilities are most likely to have sight problems
  • Six in 10 people with learning disabilities need glasses and often need support to get used to them
  • There will be a 10% increase in people with learning disabilities and sight loss over the next 20 years.

The meeting was chaired by Tom Clarke MP, co-chair of the APPG on Learning Disability, and heard speeches from: David Scott-Ralphs, chief executive of SeeAbility; Dr Margaret Woodhouse of Cardiff University; Gordon Ilett, an optometrist; and Scott Watkin, SeeAbility's eye 2 eye ambassador.

The speakers highlighted eye health in people with learning disabilities as a key public health issue and emphasised that everyone with a learning disability should have a sight test at least every 2 years, or more frequently if advised by an optometrist. In addition, it was highlighted that people with learning disabilities may not know they have a sight problem and changes in behaviour may be the only way to communicate that they have problems. Often this behaviour is misinterpreted by families and supporters.

Speakers also called on local health planners to set up enhanced sight testing schemes, with more training for optometrists and longer appointment times. A new sight testing pathway being developed by the Local Optical Committee Support Unit will promote best practice.

Clarke said: "The meeting of the APPGs was a valuable opportunity to raise the importance of people with a learning disability having access to eye care services. People with a learning disability are more likely to face eye health problems, but find it more difficult to access the services they need. It is important for the NHS, eye health professionals and other local agencies to work more effectively, to help improve the eye health services of people with a learning disability."

Scott Watkin, previously co-national director for learning disabilities at the Department of Health, who has a learning disability, said: "I am a great example of how having the right eye health care can change your life. Sight tests detected major problems with my vision and through eye surgery I have regained vision, which has opened up all sorts of possibilities for me. If you get the chance to improve your sight - go for it."

Scott-Ralphs added: "This event was an important opportunity to raise awareness and to suggest realistic ways to improve practice nationally with policy and decision makers. Through SeeAbility's eye 2 eye Campaign we will be continuing to champion this issue for people with learning disabilities."